James Bond: The spy who loved to look cool

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The new Bond movie marks 50 years of understated spy chic and villainous verve. John Walsh dons his tuxedo to take a look at a new exhibition of design from the 23 films

"There has been no bigger icon of British design style over [the last] 50 years," says the Barbican's genial boss Nicholas Kenyon, "than James Bond." Really? Has the fictional agent 007 been a more influential design creation in the last half-century than Mary Quant's miniskirts, Terence Conran's white plates, Ron Arad's furniture, James Dyson's household products or Vivienne Westwood's frocks?

Probably not. But we sort of know what Kenyon means, don't we? In 23 movies over five decades, the Bond films established a template of off-hand heroism and high-gloss adventure that effectively bullied the world into believing they were cool, stylish and happening. The films were actually about as stylish as old Martini TV commercials, the kind that showed Mediterranean playboys relaxing on yachts with their laughing blonde companions. The movies existed in a bubble of faux sophistication, with rich, scarred villains bent on world domination, with homes in travel-guide locations and beautiful girlfriends whom they mistreated. And a hero who wore, and drove, and drank and moved through a whole department store of cool stuff that we ourselves couldn't afford; and got to shag the villains' cast-off, vengeful mistresses, plus anyone else with breasts who wandered into the action.

James Bond as a character wasn't ever cool – in the early films he was a terrible fusspot about champagne, and complained about needing earmuffs to listen to the Beatles. His later incarnation was abused by his boss M as a "sexist dinosaur". But he was (as Ian Fleming conceived him) an efficient machine when it came to killing, running, dodging bullets, and piloting cars, planes, tanks and speedboats, and he was old-fashionedly saucy with the ladies. Whatever was going on in England at the time – flower power, glam rock, punk, Thatcherism, New Romantics, Britpop – the various incarnations of James could always be found being heroic in bespoke suits, commandeering motorbikes, being suave with bosomy horizontales, and electrocuting baddies, in landscapes full of money and foreign exotica.

As we wait for the new Bond movie, Skyfall, to knock us for six in October – on the 50th anniversary of the first Bond film, Dr No, released in 1962 – we can refresh our memories of celluloid Bondage at the Barbican this summer. Designing 007 – Fifty Years of Bond Style is an exhibition that tries to give a flavour of the whole shooting match, the sets, props, costumes, cars, gadgets, stunts – but also the credits, posters, storyboards and special effects.

The show is designed by Ab Rogers, most famous for restyling the motorway Little Chef at Popham with Heston Blumenthal. It's co-curated by Lindy Hemming, who did wardrobe design on five Bond movies, and the fashion historian Bronwyn Cosgrave, whose book about Oscar-night fashions, Made for Each Other, deals as much with films as frocks.

"We hope that when a visitor finishes the show, they'll understand what has gone into designing a Bond film," says Cosgrave. "They'll walk in through a gun barrel, enter a golden domain to commemorate the golden anniversary, visit M's office, look at gadgets in Q Branch, enter a casino, then visit the foreign territories which Bond visited."

They're dedicating a room to Bond villains, from the thinly smiling Dr Julius No with the contact lenses and artificial hands in Dr No, to the ruthless business mogul Dominic Greene with the sidekick called Elvis, in Quantum of Solace. For purists, no Bond movie is complete without an unfeasibly huge cavern in which the bad guy plans world domination. Space considerations, alas, preclude a life-size exhibit of Hugo Drax's space station in Moonraker, or Karl Stromberg's submersible Atlantis in The Spy Who Loved Me.

"But we have drawings of Blofeld's lair in On Her Majesty's Secret Service [the one at the top of the Swiss Alps]," says Cosgrave. "We've gone to the archive and hand-picked items that will recreate it. We're screening the greatest scenes from the films and displaying objects that went into their design. The final room in the exhibition is the Ice Palace, from Die Another Day, and that's quite fantastic."

The word "costume" hardly seems to fit James Bond. He always wears business suits, because he's supposedly an executive working for "Universal Exports". Sometimes he wears shorts, for running along beaches, and occasionally a tuxedo, for those crucial casino visits. That's it, isn't it? Has there been much evolution from Connery to Craig?

"Terence Young, who directed Dr No and groomed Sean Connery to play Bond, sent him to his tailor [and Ian Fleming's], namely Anthony Sinclair," says Cosgrave. "At the time Sinclair's signature design was the Conduit Cut, inspired by the athletic physique of his clients, many of whom were former Guards officers. The trousers had a very slim fit and the jacket was a hacking jacket with a longer cut. That suit's been copied several times. It's served as a reference point for all later designers, right up to Tom Ford with Daniel Craig."

And the tuxedos? Our first sighting of Bond, after all, is in a white tux… "No," Cosgrave says firmly, "it's black. He's in a casino called Le Circle, and the first sight is of his cuffs – a homage to Ian Fleming's turned-back suit cuffs."

When we think of the 80-odd Bond girls who have shimmered and flirted through the 23 films, exhibiting all feisty, gun-toting, research-scientist, feminist bona fides before getting their kit off for 007, we recall a succession of swimming costumes and evening gowns, like in old Miss World shows. The organisers insist there's more to it than that.

"What fascinated me when I started to examine the films," says Cosgrave, "was that the costume designers worked with the best fashion designers. There was always a strong, directional fashion style, from Pussy Galore's trouser suit – women weren't wearing trousers back then – to today when Muccia Prada adapts her clothes for the screen."

There are two pieces of Prada in the exhibition – the black dress Camille Montes wore when crossing the desert with Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace, and the red top Michelle Yeoh wore playing Wei Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies.

"Hubert de Givenchy dressed Lois Chiles for Moonraker, and we have the black satin jumpsuit she wore when escaping from Jaws in a Sugarloaf Mountain cable-car." And who designed the maddest costume of all – that of the murderous May Day, played by Grace Jones in A View to a Kill? "Azzedine Alaia. He was her friend, she was his muse and she recommended him for the film."

Don't tell Cosgrave that the cars and gadgets and accessories you see in James Bond movies are basically boys' fantasy toys, the thriller equivalent of Wallace and Gromit. She insists that each Bond film was just ahead of contemporary technology.

"In the first room, there's a drawing of Goldfinger's jet, which was modelled on Lyndon Johnson's. Remember the Ericsson flip-phone Pierce Brosnan used in Tomorrow Never Dies? The whole flip-phone concept was launched the following year. And the BMW R1200 motorbike that Bond and Wai Lin drove through Ho Chi Minh City in the same film – that great stunt scene? – BMW launched that later on. The Bombardier Skidoo [snowmobile] in Die Another Day – that was its first appearance, and it later went out commercially."

In the "Q Branch" sector of the show, visitors can see the progression of gadgets from the early sketches from John Stears ("the real Q") to the special-effects department at Pinewood, where they were built and tried out. "We have an Aston Martin DB5," says Cosgrave, "we have the technical drawings, the models, the 'snooper' dogbot [mini-robot] from A View to a Kill, the piton weapon we see Pierce Brosnan fire in Goldeneye. We have drawings of the Bondola [the gondola that converted into a turbo-powered hovercraft in Moonraker] and the Q-Boat in The World is Not Enough."

There's clearly a treat in store for Bond-ophiles from next week until early September. But, while admiring the passion that's going into the exhibition (and the awesome research conducted by Cosgrave and her team), I've yet to be convinced that the Bond movies had a life outside their bubble of sophistication. Could Cosgrave give me one example of how the films influenced lifestyles?

"Tailoring," she says shortly. "You just can't imagine how many British tailors have been asked by clients to make them look like Bond. I know because they told me. The films also put Martinis on the map. And there's the style Ken Adam innovated, juxtaposing modern, stainless steel and chrome, stuff with antiques. It was there right from the start, in Dr No's lair, a futuristic environment with an Old Master painting. On Goldfinger's jet there was a Braque and a French telephone. It's become a signature.

"I think Bond is still incredibly influential. The films showed a way of living which might have seemed far-fetched in the 1960s. But think of the techno-billionaires who collect Bond memorabilia at auctions, who want to live like him – and, because they have more money than ever now, think they can be him. The films continue to be a reference point for them."

God help us. I'm not sure we can take any more world domination.

Designing 007: 50 Years of Bond Style, Barbican, London EC2 6 July to 5 September (www.barbican.org.uk)

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game